What’s your writing background? When did you begin writing and what inspired you?
I come from a family of voracious readers. I always loved reading. I have an older sister who is an excellent writer. When we were kids, she was always winning essay contests and story contests. I remember writing my first fictional story when I was about 10, but my mom has some earlier stuff (that I hope never sees the light of day). I lived in the UK when I was young, and I think that had an impact. More respect for the written word…more history. So, that’s the short answer.
The long answer? I was lucky for a few reasons. Like I said, my house was well stocked with books. My parents also spoke to me like I was an adult even when I was very young. I had a very large vocabulary, and I liked words…we used to play word games in the car. When I was 13 or 14, the local paper asked the head of my High School English department to recommend a student/athlete to write an article. He suggested that they talk to me. I wrote an article about soccer or football…I can’t remember. They liked it and asked me to cover all the High School sports. Which I did. When summer vacation rolled around, I had to get a job and I thought, ‘hey, I’m writing a ton for the paper, they should pay me’. By this point I was covering professional sports and writing feature articles, too. My boss was a sweetheart. They agreed to pay me, so I wrote half a dozen articles a week until I left for college. After a year, I convinced them to give me a column. It seemed normal-ish at the time. Looking back, I was in the press box at pro games when I was 15 years old. I was interviewing famous athletes in the locker room. In hindsight, it seems like an absurd opportunity. I was very lucky. And I was such an oddity that the sportswriters for other papers took me under their wing(s). This was back when sportswriters still drank non-stop (there was a bar in most press boxes) and chain smoked and pounded out copy on old typewriters. Great guys. Really generous. I owe them a lot.
I was essentially being groomed for a career in journalism. At the same time, I played in a punk rock band. I wrote lyrics constantly. We played shows and had a lot of fun. I hated being on stage, but I loved writing songs. I wrote a LOT. And I read constantly. When it was time to go to college, I was disillusioned with journalism. I was burnt out and it had changed just in a few years. The old guard was being replaced. I decided I wanted to write fiction. I moved to San Francisco and majored in Creative Writing at SFSU (a cheap school I could afford that also had one of the best CW departments in the country). I was being taught by writers I looked up to. It was great. I was still playing in bands, too.
I still write music for fun, but I don’t get on stage. I did a reading recently during the LitQuake madness in San Francisco. It went well, but it reminded me why I like writing more than performing. My inspiration has always been creation. I love to make things. I love drawing with my daughter. When I was a little kid, I made slingshots and bows and arrows…if I am creating, I am happy. Writing is my favorite creative pursuit because it is largely solitary, and you start with nothing. Just your brain, your thoughts, your feelings. The ability to use words to create images intrigues me. I love that people like what I write, but I wrote for a long time to get to where I am now. I have also been lucky enough to teach writing workshops with at-risk kids. That was an amazing experience and I’ve been writing like a mad man ever since.
How often do you write? And how do you manage to fit in writing among other commitments?
I write every day. I write full time, now – fiction and freelance. So, finding time to write isn’t really an issue anymore, as it is my job. In the past, I wrote whenever I could. When I was teaching, I would write a chapter a day during our 45 minute lunch. That’s how Joe Cafe was written. I’ve always found time. Whether it was sitting in the back of history class writing lyrics, or scribbling ideas on napkins while working in cafes. I’m lucky in that my brain is able to write and hold onto a story, meaning that there are many times when I am out riding my motorcycle or at a party, and I will write a story in my head. Then when I have time, I type it out.
Even if writing didn’t pay the bills and no one ever read what I wrote, I would do it. That was the way it was for years when I was working on my fiction chops. I didn’t submit a story for publication until years after I graduated and had written hundreds of stories. I refused until I knew I was good enough. The first story I got the guts to submit was accepted by the Berkeley Fiction Review and the Chicago Quarterly Review. I got a lot of rejections after that, mind. But I have always been glad that I waited until I knew I was ready. A lot of writers get frustrated and quit because they experience rejection too early in the learning process, I think. Point being, writing is a necessity for me. I spent years writing just for myself. If I don’t write every day, I get very…frustrated. Manic. Writing is cheap therapy.
In which genre do you most enjoy writing?
I am of the belief that genres are limiting, and I don’t think of my writing in that way. The Biker is a tribute to Louis L’Amour and his brethren. That’s probably the only exception. Everything I write is very rooted in character and psychology. But that’s about the extent I’ll go to genre-wise. Some stories I write are funny, some are “horror” (according to other people). Some are dark and Joe Cafe is kind of a crime novel, but really it’s just about people. I don’t feel the need to tie myself to a genre. The things I write are honest. They are about people. Sometimes horrific things happen to people. Sometimes funny or sad things happen to people. But that doesn’t mean they need to be aligned to genre. To me. When people ask me what I write about, I usually say: “people…and shit that happens to people.”
What draws you to write in that genre?
Let’s say for the sake of the question that my genre is ‘Psychologically-Based, Character Fiction’. Pretty broad, but I am really fascinated by people. Especially the people who slip beneath the radar or who are dealing with demons (something I have done my share of). I study people. I am always in the corner of the room watching at social events. That’s what I mean. Other people classify my work. I get tagged as ‘Noir’ a lot. I see it, I guess, but it was never my intention. My intention is always to tell the story, make the characters real, and not to worry about fitting it into a neat little box. I’m content to let other people categorize my writing if they see fit. For me, it’s just writing about life and people. Sometimes it is scary, sometimes it is depressing, sometimes it makes you laugh. That’s life. That’s how people operate.
Can you tell me about your current project(s)?
Right now, I am working on two novels. The sequel to The Biker and a novella. And I constantly write short stories. Short form will always be my true literary love. I have become a bit obsessed with flash fiction. I try to write at least a few stories a week on my blog. I write music when the mood strikes. And I will write about pretty much anything freelance-wise. Fiction doesn’t pay much.
What are your writing plans for the future?
I don’t even think about it because I know that it will be as it has always been…I will write as much as possible. I would be interested in doing a column for a magazine. I do an advice column now called ‘Don’t Ask JD’. It started as kind of a joke, and it is a character really…meaning, I am playing a character when I answer Q’s. My answers are very…well, rude and funny. I’m much less of an asshole in real life. I don’t believe you can really plan the future when it comes to writing. I don’t know where all this is headed, but for the first time in my life I know it is headed somewhere. I’m kind of intrigued to find out where, frankly.
Where can people find out more about you?
My blog (www.jdmader.com) has a bunch of stories and links to non-fiction and music. I have done a lot of interviews. Richard Godwin, a great writer and friend, did a pretty amazing interview with me. I think it took us two months. He has a knack for asking really interesting questions. That interview probably represents me and the way I think most effectively. But, I made the decision years ago to be honest about everything. So, there is a lot out there. And I don’t pull any punches. If you want to know more about me, Google will reveal all. Check out the blog. I have an author page on Amazon. I tweet in manic bursts: @jd_mader. Probably the best way to find out more about me would be reading my fiction. There’s a lot of me in every character I create.
Thanks for the interview!